Thinking of Apple Watch 2

Since that day in September 2015 when I first saw the Apple Watch I’ve been thinking about the Apple Watch 2. It’s almost impossible not to. Apple has a great track record for blowing away first generation devices with annual improvements. They’re also especially talented at crafting that perfect 1.0 product to launch into the world. They develop the the right set of features so early adopters get excited that a new device will solve a problem they have and make their lives better. A new Apple product represents a promise of things to come and an opportunity to experience the future today.

This isn’t Apple’s first rodeo, and the organization is quite different then in 2011 when they introduced their last new product, the iPad. Apple’s manufacturing capacity has improved tremendously, they design custom silicon second to none and their miniaturization abilities are mind blowing. So, how “1.0” is the Apple watch? Apparently, it has been in development since the iPhone 4s was new. So,where’s the room for improvement? In a year will it seem obsolete, or will it be more like my 4 year old MacBook Air — still insanely great and very similar to what’s on sale today.

Size

The Apple watch is 42mm tall and 11mm thick. This puts it on par with a modern mechanical Swiss sports watch like a Rolex or Omega. Could it be 4mm thin like a Patek Philippe dress watch? Is there even a point in significantly reducing the size? My thinking is that there is not going to be a iPad 2 moment when the device gets 40% thinner in the next release. The watch feels perfectly natural on my wrist and feels well — watch sized.

Battery

This is a topic that’s seems pretty hot, but I don’t really know why. Let’s say that Apple Watch 2 doubles in its effencency. That takes you to a 32 hour power reserve. Trouble is, you’ll still probably want to top it up on a daily basis. Leave it on your wrist overnight and you get into the problem of running out halfway through the next day. Maybe if the watch charged instantly, but with the current induction charging it doesn’t- it takes around an hour. Apple won’t follow Samsung with the Gear 3 and make a huge watch that gets a few days power reserve. A few years from now, we’ll have wireless charging and electricity will flow like Wifi, and this will all seem so antique like an iPod with a spinning hard drive.

Screen

The OLED screen of the Apple watch looks phenomenal. Only problem is that it’s not on all the time. It’s reminiscent of the first LCD watch in the 1970s, the Hamilton Pulsar where you had to push a button to see the time. (I actually saw a guy on the subway with one earlier this year.)

Samsung’s new watch has an “Always On” display, which actually means that it displays the time really small on the screen. Since OLED can light up individual pixels this doesn’t use much power. Its not particurally elegant the way Samsung did it — Apple would design it much better. Perhaps leave the hands on screen then when you raise your wrist all the UI would turn on.

What I’d really like to see is a reflective display, which Sony has already done some early work on. My dream is a display with multiple layers — that way the hands can actually float on top of the indexes in a three dimensional space.

Sensors & Connectivity

There were rumors of blood sugar and blood pressure sensors headed to the Apple watch. That’s FDA approval territory. Tim Cook has also hinted at expanding sensor functions through accessories. All this seems possible, maybe even in the near future.

A lot of people expect a smart watch to have connectivity away from its parent phone. Samsung sells a few very large watches that have cellular connectivity. You can even buy one on contract from your wireless carrier which seems insane to me. Eventually Apple Watch will become more autonomous, just like the iPhone and iPad broke away from the Mac. But I think it’s going to take a while — we’re still in the AOL dial up era of LTE where your usage is metered.

What does seem feasible is that the local wireless networking will drastically improve. Bluetooth has been a constant disappointment for the last decade and, in my opinion, there’s only a small difference between a proprietary connector cable like Lightning and a proprietary wireless protocol? Apple Watch only works with with iPhone so killing Bluetooth only affects headphones since that’s the only accessory it connects to.

Power

Some say that the Apple watch is about as powerful as an iPhone 5. It uses the same 28mm fab process as the iPhone 5s. I’m not sure that the experience matches though. Plenty of first party and basically all third party apps have been embarrassingly slow.

Fortunately, watchOS 3 makes huge strides in this area. Your favorite apps in the Dock launch instantaneously and can ping your phone for data up to 20 times a day. More performance is certainly welcome, but I can’t immediately list the breakthrough applications that will come with a 2x speed boost.

Durability

Apple is already matching the materials of the well established Swiss watch industry — high grade forged and machined stainless steel, synthetic sapphire, and high tech ceramics. None of those materials happened overnight, they evolved over the better part of the 20th century. Many Swiss watch companies focus on making their time pieces more resistant for forces like shock and magnetism, things that affect the movement — a problem that the Apple Watch doesn’t have.

Water resistance is an interesting topic. Many traditional watches have astonishing depth ratings (like the new IWC Aquatimer 2000 Meters 😎) but watches with a chronograph movement and impressive water resistance ratings are rare. A few that come to mine are the IWC AquaTimer, Omega Planet Ocean, and Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Offshore. The Rolex Daytona has screw down pushers to prevent you from accidentally depressing the chronograph pusher while in water. Apple Watch appears to be glued together and has microphone and speaker grills — so I wouldn’t hold your breath to see a 100m water resistance rating. Granted, you can already wear it in the shower (I’ve been body surfing with mine) and the capacity touch screen doesn’t work at all when wet so there’s not much to gain here.

Style

Jony Ive recently was quoted by the New Yorker saying that the work their doing in the design lab makes the products going on sale next week feel out dated. Watch design is a funny thing. One of my most favorite watches is the Omega Speedmaster, you can buy one today that’s basically identical to what was on sale in 1965. So, how much room is there to radically change look of the Apple watch?

If you look at the range of Marc Newson Ikepod watches, which the Apple watch heavily appropriates from, both watches are extremely simplified and unembellished forms. Perhaps new technology will allow the screen to go all the way to the edges of the Watch and for the device to become a few millimeters thinner. This will let Jony and his team redraw their chamfers with new perfected radii– ultimately creating an evolution to the design.

Pragmatic or delusional

I was thrilled owning a first generation iPhone or iPad. I sold each after a year and upgraded to the next model for a modest difference. In that year I got a glimpse of the future and the opportunity to learn about what features get shipped in a brilliant 1.0 product. Today, I believe that Apple has greater engineering and manufacturing capacity then it had in 2007 or 2011.

I could be totally delusional with my rationalization and in fact Apple just picked a 1.0 feature set two years ago and next years model will represent a tidal wave of innovation making this years models laughably obsolete. But that’s never been their strategy. Apple is competing for the future with steady a evolution of innovation punctuated with breakthrough disruptive products only once that product reaches saturation and maturity.

Tim Cook said a few years ago that they’re just getting started — thats as true today as it ever has been.